The little-known links between north Kent and a native American princess are being celebrated with a series of events in 2017. Pocahontas visited England four centuries ago and now the town of Gravesend, which became her final resting place, is paying homage to her story.
Celebrate Japanese and English relations with a free, fun-filled, family festival about our very own, Gillingham-born Will Adams.
Take a walk through time, from Tudor England and Tudor maritime history to Japanese culture in the 17th century and Japanese culture in the 21st century.
Every year we celebrate Will Adams, and here’s why:
Miura Anjin, better known as William Adams to most, was born in Gillingham in 1564.
Since childhood Adams had always been fascinated by the ocean and ships, and at the age of 12 began a 12-year apprenticeship in navigation, and seamanship. He joined the Royal Navy in 1588, serving under Sir Francis Drake during the wars with Spain, piloting supply ships to the English fleet during the battles with the Armada.
It was in the summer of 1598, after retiring from the Royal Navy, Adams was appointed Chief Navigator to a fleet of five Dutch ships, one of which was the flagship Hope. In 1600, after a hazardous voyage from west Africa, his ship went aground on the island of Kyushu, Japan. He was captured and taken to the Shogun, questioned and imprisoned as a pirate.
Eventually when he was released, he was ordered to sail to Edo (Tokyo). His knowledge of shipbuilding and navigation had impressed the Shogun so much that he became a trusted aide and diplomatic adviser to the Shogun. He built two western-style ships and taught fire tactics using the captured cannons. As a reward he was granted the honoured title of Samurai and given a small estate in Hemi (modern Yokosuka).
In 1613 he assisted with the setting up of the first trading link between Britain and Japan, when the East India Company’s ship the Clove, arrived in Hirado on 11 June that year.
William Adams died in Japan in 1620, and is still recognised and celebrated as one of the most influential foreigners in Japan during this period.
Since 2000, there has been an annual festival in Gillingham to celebrate the legacy of William Adams, the Samurai with the blue eyes.